Whether they prefer classical music, rock ‘n’ roll or Broadway musicals, many Oklahoma live entertainment fans soon will need to get their COVID-19 vaccine if they want to see a show.
Both the Oklahoma City Philharmonic and OKC Broadway — the local presenter of nationally touring Broadway shows — announced Friday that all ticketholders must show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to attend their performances.
The arts organizations join venues like Oklahoma City’s Tower Theatre and Ponyboy and Tulsa’s Mercury Lounge, The Whittier Bar and Barkingham Palace, which recently announced vaccine requirements.
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“Reaching out to our various friends and neighbors … in the industry, it just started to seem like this was going to be the way forward,” said Stephen Tyler, managing partner for the Tower Theatre and Ponyboy.
Industry grappling with Delta variant
Still reeling from the coronavirus shutdowns of 2020, the live entertainment industry now is grappling with the highly contagious Delta variant, which has sent the numbers of COVID infections, hospitalizations and deaths soaring in recent weeks.
The New Orleans Jazz Fest canceled its 2021 edition, and touring musicians like Oklahoma superstar Garth Brooks, Stevie Nicks and Limp Bizkit have scrapped shows, including the latter’s planned Labor Day weekend performance at Rocklahoma.
With COVID cases primarily rising among the unvaccinated, concert promotion giants Live Nation and AEG, major festivals like Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza and a growing roster of music stars have announced plans to require proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test to attend their events.
Jason Isbell played Tulsa’s Cain’s Ballroom shortly after instituting his vaccination requirement in early August. The Grammy Award winner has an Oklahoma City show coming up Oct. 10 at The Criterion.
After canceling some dates, Michael Buble, who has a long-delayed OKC concert slated for Sept. 19 at the Paycom Center (formerly Chesapeake Energy Arena), announced a vaccination rule for his upcoming events Aug. 26. And Dave Matthews Band, booked to perform Oct. 15-16 at Choctaw Casino & Resort in Durant, declared on Aug. 12 that ticketholders for all announced dates must provide proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test taken within 48 hours prior to entry.
Tyler said a growing number of acts are instituting the requirements at their performances.
“Considering the vast majority of everybody was going towards this model, we just thought it would be easier … to get this out there, get it in front of and message it (to patrons), answer the questions and move forward with a consistent structure,” Tyler said.
OKC Philharmonic taking measures
Civic Center Foundation Executive Director Elizabeth Gray said masks continue to be required at all times inside the Civic Center Music Hall, regardless of a person’s vaccination status.
But COVID-19 vaccination and testing policies differ by presenter, she said. The Civic Center is keeping a running list of requirements for upcoming shows at www.okcciviccenter.com/health.
Leaders of some OKC arts organizations told The Oklahoman they are still developing COVID policies for their upcoming Civic Center seasons.
The Oklahoma City Philharmonic is launching the local 2021-22 performing arts season in the Civic Center Sept. 11 with the opening concert of its Classics series.
Beginning Sept. 11 and until further notice, the OKC Philharmonic will require patrons to provide proof of full vaccination with either a physical vaccination card, a picture of a vaccination card or a digital vaccination record, along with photo ID.
For unvaccinated people ages 6 and older or those who prefer not to share their vaccination status, patrons can instead provide proof of a negative PCR (polymerase chain reaction) COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of entering the venue.
OKC Philharmonic season subscribers with a vaccination card will be required to show it at the first concert in their series and will be issued a pass that will allow them to enter the venue for the orchestra’s events without the need to show their card each time.
Subscribers also may submit a copy of their vaccination card and photo ID (with date of birth covered) ahead of time to the box office via email or U.S. Mail prior to the first concert, and a verification card will be mailed to them before the first concert.
Echoing the Civic Center policy, the philharmonic also will keep requiring masks.
OKC following Broadway’s lead
In July, New York’s Broadway theaters announced that they would require vaccinations for their audience members, and OKC Broadway is following their lead in bringing touring musicals to the Civic Center.
Along with requiring masks, OKC Broadway — a partnership of the Civic Center Foundation and New York City-based Nederlander Organization — will require all patrons to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
“Fully vaccinated” means the performance must be at least 14 days after a ticketholder’s final vaccine dose. To enter the theater, they must bring a photo ID and proof of vaccination in the form of a physical vaccination card or a picture of their card.
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Guests who are younger than 12 or need accommodations for medical reasons or for religious beliefs must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours prior to entering the venue.
“We must do this to ensure the continued existence of top-tier live entertainment for years to come,” said Gray, who is also OKC Broadway’s general manager, in a letter to subscribers announcing the new rules.
Preserving capacity is key
Although cutting crowd capacity to allow for social distancing was an acceptable short-term measure prior to the vaccine rollout, Tyler said live entertainment venues, tours and presenters must be able to be operate at full capacity to stay in business.
On Aug. 19, Tower Theatre and Ponyboy management announced that all guests would be required to provide proof of vaccination — a physical card or photo of a vaccination card, along with photo ID — or proof of negative COVID test results from within 72 hours of an event to enter the venues.
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Plus, all children younger than 12 — who are not yet approved for the COVID vaccine — will be required to wear a mask at all times. The rules go into effect Sept. 8.
Since the pandemic has become so politicized, Tyler said venue staffers braced themselves for a barrage of negative reactions when revealing the new rules.
“Not surprising, we got a bunch of comments. … But generally speaking, we felt especially early on the response was overwhelmingly positive — or that the positive voices in the response were willing to come and fight the negativity for us,” he said.
“We ran a very, very, very preliminary report over the first weekend … and anecdotally, it was pretty much 2 to 1 on sales vs. refunds”
Which Oklahoma music and event venues are requiring COVID-19 vaccines?